Heroes of American History

Author: Frederick A. Ober
Publisher: Harper & brothers Publishers, New York and London
Dates: 1906–1908
Mr. Ober's story of Cortes belongs to the older rather than to the newer school of biography—that is, it seeks rather to interest the reader than to dissect the man. . .
—NYT Saturday Review of Books

The so called 'Heroes' of this series, include many of the most controversial explorers and conquistadors of early America. Cortez, Pizarro, Balboa and De Soto are some of the more notorious names of the early Spanish conquistadors whose lives and exploits are fully told in this fascinating series. One need not admire the more sanguinary deeds of these men in order to recognize the importance of their discoveries, or to be held spellbound by their reckless courage, tenacity and grit.

The stories of the lives of the explorers are intertwined with those of the first native inhabitants of the new world to encounter European civilization. In reading the biographies of these discoverers, therefore, one encounters the stories of such well-known chieftains as Cotubanama, Montezuma, Athualpha, Tuscaloosa, and many others. What is more, the stories of the natives are told in detail rather than in general, so the complicated nature of their alliances with, and conspiracies against the invaders is fully developed. The native peoples are not all portrayed as hapless victims, but rather as a broad variety of characters who sometimes trusted, sometimes resisted, sometimes allied themselves with, and occasionally won victories against the irrepressible Spaniards.

Likewise, the life stories of even the most wicked and murderous of the conquistadors are told with enough empathy that they appear recognizably human, and this three-dimensional characterization actually lends an even more chilling aspect to some of their atrocities than do modern versions in which the are merely vilified. broad generalizations only serve to mask the depth of character of both perpetrators and victims, and erase the features which lend interest and relevance to their life stories. These excellent biographies are both exceedingly informative, and far more interesting than shorter and more simplistic versions.

The author of this series was an ornithologist who lived for over twenty years in the West Indies and Caribbean, and his intimate knowledge of the region, which factored so importantly in the early history of the Americas, is apparent on every page. His histories are based almost entirely on original sources and are accurate and reliable accounts of the some of the most fascinanting and important turning points in human history.

Columbus the Discoveror   by Frederick Ober
The life of Columbus encompasses much drama even in addition his seismic discovery of America. Through sheer determination and against all odds Columbus succeeded in his Quixotic quest to travel east by sailing west, but in many ways his victory was the beginning of his miseries. Even before he returned to Spain the intrigue, jealousies, and posturing began which were to make much of the rest of Columbus's life a misery. He sailed four times to the new world and each time made important discoveries, and yet continued to lose influence as jealous courtiers jockeyed for position, and conspired against him. 87 credits

Vasco Nunez de Balboa   by Frederick Ober
Balboa is most famous for discovering the Pacific ocean, but this was but one incident in a swashbuckling life. After running amok in Hispaniola, Balboa escaped from the island by stowing away in a barrel, and founded the first Spanish settlement in the region of Darien (modern Panama) by first battling, and then making alliances with several important chieftains. After making his famous discovery he lost control of the colony, and for the next few years was at loggerheads with the new governor Pedrarias, his arch-nemesis. It was a battle he ultimately lost, along with his head on the executioners block. 83 credits

Amerigo Vespucci   by Frederick Ober
Biography of Amerigo Vespucci that emphasizes Vespucci's relationships with Columbus, Ojeda, Ferdinand, and other important characters of the day, and provides excerpts from numerous original sources. 88 credits

Ponce de Leon   by Frederick Ober
Ponce de Leon is best known for his quixotic quest in search of the Fountain of Youth in Florida. The full story of his life, however, includes expeditions of conquest in both Hispaniola and Jamaica, and several expeditions in the region of the Bahamas and the coast of Florida. He was killed in battle with the war-like Caribs, who resisted the Spaniards with a ferocity unmatched by their docile Arawak neighbors. 83 credits

Hernando Cortes   by Frederick Ober
The story of the Conquest of Mexico is the primary legacy of the life of Cortes, and it is one of the most riveting tales to be told in the history of the Americas. Cortes was an utterly fearless leader, who used diplomacy as well as military prowess to make critical alliances which enabled him to conquer a wealthy, sophisticated, empire of millions with only a few hundred Spaniards. But his story was not one of straight forward conquest, but rather, a complicated tale of intrigue, treachery, massacre, and dramatic escapes and reversals. One needn't admire his deeds to be held spellbound by the sheer audacity of his endeavors. 86 credits

Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru   by Frederick Ober
Of all of the Spanish Conquistadors, Pizarro is perhaps the most notorious for atrocities committed against the natives. The massacre of Caxamala, during which the Spaniards killed 4000 unarmed Incas and captured the Chieftain Atahualpa, led directly to the conquest of Peru with its rich gold and silver mines. What is less well-known is that Pizarro spent nearly a decade laying the groundwork for the invasion, gaining the resources necessary to conquer the region, and planning his invasion. Like many other conquistadors, he came to a violent end after a bold, but brutal career. 88 credits

Ferdinand de Soto   by Frederick Ober
Fernando de Soto made a name for himself as a young man, during the conquest of Peru under Pizarro. With the gains he made in Peru he equipped an expedition into the unknown regions of Florida and the Southwestern United States in hopes of discovering yet another empire, and more gold. After two years of fruitless wondering, and many encounters with Indian, de Soto discovered the Mississippi river, but failed to realize its significance, considering it only as an obstacle in his quest for gold and empire.85 credits

Ferdinand Magellan   by Frederick Ober
Ferdinand Magellan started his career at sea in company with Almeida on his expedition to the Malabar coast. There he distinguished himself, but made enemies so powerful that he found himself exiled from Portugal and in the service of King Charles of Spain. It was the Spanish Monarch, rather than the Portuguese King who procured the ships for his famous voyage around the world. Although Magellan himself died in the Philippines, he survived a mutiny, led his fleet around Cape Horn and crossed the Pacific before being killed in a battle with East Indian natives. 88 credits

John and Sebastion Cabot   by Frederick Ober
John and Sebastian Cabot were Italian sailors who were early explorers of North America. Like Columbus, John Cabot sought sponsors for his voyage outside Italy and in 1496 was commissioned by Henry VII Tudor to sailed for the new world. In 1497 he is thought to have landed in Canada, which gave England a claim to North America. His son Sebastian also sailed for England and was one of the first of many who sailed under the British flag in search of the 'Northwest Passage.' 92 credits

Sir Walter Raleigh   by Frederick Ober
This biography is part of a series on the early explorers of America, so it focuses primarily on Sir Walter Raleigh's expeditions to the new world. Raleigh is famous both for his contributions to establishing the first American settlement at Jamestown and also for his adventures in South America, in search of El Dorado. As one of Queen Elizabeth's favorite courtiers, he was involved in much palace intrigue, and was eventually imprisoned by Elizabeth's successor, James I.94 credits